Education, tips and tricks to help you conduct better fMRI experiments.
Sure, you can try to fix it during data processing, but you're usually better off fixing the acquisition!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Common persistent EPI artifacts: Abnormally high N/2 ghosts (2/2)

In the previous post I covered sources of persistent ghosts that arise as a result of some property of the subject, such as the orientation of the subject's head in the magnet. These are what I'm categorizing as subject-dependent effects. In this post I will review the most common sources of persistent ghosts attributable to the scanner, either from an intrinsic property that you might encounter inadvertently, or from mis-setting a parameter in your protocol. As I mentioned last time, I am restricting the discussion to factors that you have some control over as the scanner operator. Ghosts that arise because of a scanner installation error, such as poor gradient eddy current compensation or inaccurate gradient calibration, are issues for your facility physicist and/or your service engineer.

Scanner-dependent conditions:

Rotated read/phase encode axes 

GLOBAL - affects all slices to some extent.

This is an insidious problem that we could categorize as pilot error, except that it's very easily encountered without realizing it. When you set up your slice prescription you are primarily concerned with capturing all those brain regions you need for your experiment. Or you might be concerned with setting a particular slice angle relative to the brain anatomy, e.g. parallel to AC-PC. Now, if the subject's head is precisely aligned such that the read and phase encode axes of your imaging plane are matched perfectly with the gradient set axes (i.e. with the magnet's frame of reference), then for axial slices the readout dimension will be attained using pure X gradient (subject's left-right) while the phase encode dimension uses pure Y gradient (subject's anterior-posterior). (See Note 4 in the post on "Good" coronal and sagittal data for an explanation of why the gradients are established this way, for subject safety/comfort reasons.) But, if the head is twisted slightly, or you're a little sloppy with your slice positioning, then it is quite easy to have a readout gradient that is mostly X with a little bit of Y, and a phase encoding gradient that is mostly Y with a little bit of X. This in-plane rotation ought not be a problem if the X and Y gradients performed equivalently, but they're only similar and not identical. There tend to be small differences in the response time of the gradients, which means that when the scanner tries to drive the read gradient to its desired k-space trajectory, one component (say the X component) can respond faster than the other. This produces a slight mismatch between the target (ideal) k-space trajectory and the trajectory that's actually achieved by the gradients, thereby leading to a source of zigzags that will produce N/2 ghosting.

Now the good news. You've got to rotate the image plane by quite a lot before the ghosting starts to become apparent. It's common to have rotations of 1-2 degrees and these will generate almost no additional ghosting. Once the rotation gets much larger than 5 degrees (depending on the specifics of your scanner) then you might start to see additional ghosting. Below on the left is an ideal prescription, while on the right I've intentionally rotated the image plane by 8 degrees, leading to a small but noticeable increase in ghost level:

(Click to enlarge.)